REVIEW: DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES GUY GARDNER
I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember the 1970's. I am. And it was an interesting time in the action figure world. With the exception of Hasbro's G.I. Joe, and Mattel's Big Jim, the action figure world was dominated by one particular company -- MEGO.
Mego accomplished this by snapping up every license they could get their hands on. For the first and only time in toy history, action figures from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics would be produced by the same company at the same time -- even appearing on the same packaging (not counting Captain Action's costume sets from the 60's). This was even before the first legendary crossover that brought Superman and Spider-Man together. Mego also boasted action figures for Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, the Wizard of Oz, and a host of other concepts, a few of which one sort of wondered how they warranted action figures -- CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch, Dukes of Hazzard, The Waltons...
Mego even boasted a number of somewhat in-house projects -- Pirates, Western characters, Knights, Robin Hood, Monsters, and more. They ruled the action figure roost -- right up to the point where Star Wars came along and changed the playing field forever.
Mego accomplished this by creating a good, basic, eight-inch body design, that could readily have any head necessary installed on it, and be dressed in whatever costume required. For the better part of the 1970's, this allowed them to produce a staggering supply of figures.
And, Mego is very highly regarded to this day. And, here and there, has been making a sort of comeback. Various companies have been producing Mego-styled figures for a variety of concepts, some of which are derived from previous Mego products, some of which are not. Arguably the most "official" incarnations have been EmCe Toys' Star Trek and Planet of the Apes figures. The bodies and heads are faithful reproductions of the original Megos.
But that doesn't mean that others have ignored the ongoing popularity of these famous figures. Mattel, maintaining the DC Comics license, has been producing a series of eight-inch, cloth-costumed action figures, consulting with some of the same people that got EmCe Toys running, to create the "Retro-Action Super-Heroes" line.
The DC branch of Mego's original "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" was an interesting one. Many of the expected characters were, of course, a part of it. Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, and others. Some were somewhat less expected. No one complained that Green Arrow was brought into the line, but there were other, more prominent characters. When villains came along, everyone expected such notables as the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler, but how did Mr. Mxyzptlk find his way in ahead of Lex Luthor?
And where were such luminaries as Flash, Green Lantern, and a number of others? Well -- they were planned. There was the intention to do them. But Mego never got around to them, and after missing out on Star Wars, Mego's prominence in the toy aisles soon dwindled. Their last major hit, Micronauts, was unlike any previous action figure line they'd produced, in fact being derived from a Japanese line called Microman, and that was pretty well the end of that.
Of course, there's been no shortage of "what if"-ing over the years. What if Mego had continued? What if they had produced other characters? Customizers over the decades have turned out some remarkable specimens. There's even a Mego-enthusiast Web Site and an annual Mego collectors' convention.
But thanks to Mattel, a lot of that "what if"-ing has come to pass. Their DC Retro-Action line has seen to it that a lot of the faces that never turned up the first time around, are turning up now. Lex Luthor. Green Lantern. Sinestro. Two-Face. Flash. Martian Manhunter. Some of these figures are not that easy to find, but for any longtime Mego fan, they're a true delight.
Still, some of the characters are a little more unexpected than others. And one of those unexpected ones has certainly turned up as part of a MattyCollector.Com exclusive assortment with a distinct Green Lantern emphasis. This assortment features Sinestro, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and -- GUY GARDNER!?
Okay, in fairness Guy Gardner did technically exist back in the 70's -- the character was first introduced in Green Lantern #59, in March of 1968. This is more than can be said for Kyle Rayner, who didn't come along until the early 1990's. But Guy Gardner as he is best known, with his distinctive uniform, hairstyle, and attitude, didn't really develop until the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which took place in 1985. So we still have something of a near temporal dichotomy here, of a figure who looks like a character who, in this particular form, didn't even exist when the original version of this type of figure was at its most popular.
Let's consider something of the rather convoluted history of Guy Gardner. He was first created by John Broome and Gil Kane, and contrary to some opinion, was not named after the NASA astronaut Guy Gardner, but for Green Lantern fan Guy H. Lillian III, and longtime DC writer Gardner Fox. The character was originally patterned after actor Martin Milner, perhaps best known for his role on the police TV series "Adam-12".
Guy was raised in Baltimore by his parents, Roland and Peggy Gardner. Ronald was an abusive alcoholic who repeatedly beat Guy. During his mid-teens, Guy became a juvenile delinquent, but was straightened out by his older brother Mace, who had become a police officer. Guy eventually went to college, supporting himself, and earning bachelor's degrees in education and psychology from the University of Michigan, where he also played football until a career-ending injury.
After college, Guy worked as a social welfare caseworker, dealing with prison inmates. However, he feared that this occupation brought out his aggressive nature, and he became a teacher for children with disabilities.
When Green Lantern Abin Sur crash-landed on Earth, his power ring sought and found two potential successors - Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan. Jordan was closer to the crash site, so he was chosen over Gardner. Later, when Jordan became aware of Gardner's status as his backup, the two met and eventually became friends.
Later, during an earthquake, Gardner was hit by a bus while attempting to rescue one of his students. During his recovery, the Guardians recruited John Stewart to be Jordan's new backup. Gardner recovered from his initial mishap and continued to serve periodically as a Green Lantern, but after being trapped in the Phantom Zone for a time, and suffering torture at the hands of General Zod and others, upon his release from the Zone, he was diagnosed with brain damage and was comatose for a number of years.
During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Guardians of the Universe split into two factions over how to confront the Crisis. A minority faction of six Guardians recruited a new Green Lantern to directly attack and destroy the forces of evil in the antimatter universe. For reasons unknown, Gardner was revived by the renegade Guardians, given a power ring not tied to the Central Power Battery on Oa, and sporting what was then a far more distinctive uniform than a typical Green Lantern.
Gardner's brain damage manifested itself in the form of an arrogant, unstable, and frequently violent new personality. Gardner believed himself to be the last "true" Green Lantern, superior to the others, and particularly to Hal Jordan.
Even though five of the renegade Guardians were killed by a wave of antimatter during the Crisis, and the sixth eventually reconciled with the other Guardians, Gardner was allowed to keep his power ring even after the events of the Crisis. Not long after, Gardner became a founding member of the new Justice League International, after the original JLA had disbanded. In his time with the JLI, Gardner was frequently trouble. He resented Batman's leadership of the group, picked a fight with Lobo, sucker-punched Blue Beetle during a boxing match, and was prone to strange personality shifts resulting from blows to his head, alternating between his apparent usual arrogant self, and a far meeker, gentler personality.
Following a lengthy assignment of recruiting new members to the Corps, Hal Jordan returned to Earth to reclaim his title as Green Lantern of Sector 2814, a role now held by Gardner. Gardner's response was to challenge Jordan to a fight, where the loser would quit the Corps. Gardner lost and surrendered his ring. He eventually came into possession of Sinestro's yellow power ring, and used it for a time, simply calling himself "Guy Gardner". He would later be called "Warrior", and be revealed to have a certain alien heritage, as well as somehow, internalized weapons and armor.
During the "Green Lantern: Rebirth" storyline, which saw the return of Hal Jordan, Gardner was purged of the alien influences within him, and resumed his role as a Green Lantern, complete with his original costume. Gardner was recruited shortly after the events of "Rebirth" by the Guardians to become one of the Corps' three main instructors, along with Kilowog and Kyle Rayner. Gardner was not especially appreciative of this new position, but was told that his success in training new recruits could lead to him being given a new position.
Gardner played a significant role in defeating the Spider Guild attack on Oa. Following this, he is promoted to Lantern #1 of the Green Lantern Honor Guard, a position of authority over other Lanterns. In this new role, Gardner is expected to "think outside the box" and "do the jobs other Lanterns can't", both of which are certainly functions well-suited to his irascible personality.
Gardner played significant roles in the Sinestro Corps War and the Blackest Night storylines, and has successfully worn a Red Lantern ring and lived to tell about it. He is currently one of the stars of the Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors title.
So, how's the figure? Extremely cool, but there's a big part of me that feels like I'm looking at some sort of product from an alternate universe, one where Mego never went under and continued to make action figures. Granted, I had the same feeling when I snagged the figures for Green Lantern, Sinestro, and Lex Luthor. Imagine being able to do just a little graphics work with the package, pasting the original logo over it, and then having access to a time machine and slipping them into a supply of Megos back in the 1970's. Wouldn't that just mess with some people's heads, especially if you took a photograph of it and mailed it to the Mego execs at the time.
But it's even weirder with Guy Gardner. Honestly, even if Mego had existed long enough and kept their World's Greatest Super-Heroes line going long enough for Guy Gardner to theoretically be added to the line-up, I'm not convinced that he would have been. Nothing against the character, but Mego seemed much more interested in doing as iconic characters as possible. Green Arrow was almost an aberration. So was The Falcon on the Marvel side of things. Apart from that, the line was pretty well devoted to doing the best-knowns -- Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, the Fantastic Four. Heck, they never even did any X-Men! I can see Mego doing Hal Jordan. They almost did. Guy Gardner? Hmmmm -- probably not.
The package certainly helps the overall image of this figure being a definite tribute to the days of Mego. Mattel has done an excellent job of recreating -- in their own way -- the original packaging. The figure is secured to a wide cardboard card inside a rectangular "bubble", with a couple of little downward juts at the bottom for the feet. That's it. Nothing fancy, no bizarre shapes to the bubble or the packaging. This was how Mego figures were packaged, and this is how their descendants are being packaged.
The card has a red and yellow "RETRO-ACTION DC SUPER-HEROES" logo on it in red and yellow, in basic style virtually identical to the original Mego "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" logo. There is a white band around the inside perimeter of the card, which is mostly a very Green Lantern color of green. There are circles cascading below the red and yellow logo, which feature drawn images the heads of Gardner, Stewart, Sinestro, and Rayner, along with the Green Lantern logo. All of these do a very effective job of emulating the Mego look.
The back of the card features full drawn images of these four characters, along with the Retro-Action logo. Amusingly, the Mattel logo at the bottom has a version of Matty, the Mattel mascot, next to it, and it's the YOUNG Matty, that actually saw use in the 1960's, not the adult Matty that has become the mascot of the Web Site.
About the only things throwing off the imagery at all are the UPC, the mention of a Web Site, and the modern DC logo, none of which could really be avoided.
The enclosed figure is extremely cool, and very effective. Guy Gardner's Green Lantern uniform is a little different. It's not just tights. The man wears black tights, but it has a turtleneck, and he has this vest-like jacket with a broad collar, a wide and heavily detailed belt, and very large boots. In the days of Mego, some of these would have likely presented something of a challenge to the company. Mattel carried through with them very effectively.
The headsculpt is excellent, as well. Gardner doesn't exactly have typical heroic features. He has worn his reddish hair in a bowl-cut, and his facial features are a little rougher than most. Again, this probably would've presented a significant challenge for Mego. Most of their heads were somewhat nondescript. They were decent likenesses, but not terribly dramatic. I'd have to say the best three headsculpts in the superhero realm that Mego turned out were Green Arrow, Reed Richards, and the Hulk. They all looked very much like their comic book counterparts, and had above-average detail.
Mattel has succeeded superbly well in bringing forth a Guy Gardner head that, while perhaps not as intricately detailed as we have come to expect from modern action figures, looks EXACTLY what I would expect a Mego head of Guy Gardner to have looked like, had it been crafted at the time. He has his bowl-cut, very well-detailed. He's definitely for a smart-aleck smirk on his face. The facial details are above-average for a Mego figure, as they need to be, without being excessive about it. And the ears and the way the eyes are painted are pure Mego. In all these respects, it's perfect.
The uniform is similarly impressive. Gardner is wearing black tights, with a turtleneck at the top. The collared vest is actually a separate piece, and is made from a leather-like fabric of a type similar to one that Mego themselves used from time to time. While it didn't tend to turn up in the Super-Heroes line that much, it was certainly prevalent in other Mego lines, including Planet of the Apes, where it was used for the "bib" on characters like Cornelius and Galen, as well as the tunics for gorilla soldiers. It was also used for the tunics for Klingons in the Star Trek line, and on the original Andorian.
This does sort of raise the question -- is Gardner's Green Lantern jacket actually some sort of leather? Really, I hadn't even thought about it before. But it wouldn't surprise me if it was. It seems to be his sort of style. The vest on the figure has an appropriately high collar, with a white border sewn to it, and the Green Lantern emblem imprinted on it.
Gardner wears white gloves, and very much in keeping with how Mego did gloves on a lot of their super-heroes, Gardner's hands are molded in white, and the upper part of the gloves are leather-like fabric sewn to the lower sleeves. An extra band of white has been sewn to the gloves, to represent the interwoven band that is actually part of Gardner's gloves. His right hand is clenched into a fist, and his Green Lantern ring is present on his second finger.
Then there's the belt. Gardner wears a very wide and detailed white belt at the base of his uniform. And honestly, I thought it looked a little excessive. It's highly detailed, almost too much so, and seems wider than it needs to be. A little wider than necessary it may be, but it occurred to me that the detail level is just about right. While most of the belts on Mego's super-hero figures were relatively minimal, Mego did a Conan the Barbarian figure as part of the Marvel side of things (and to this day I'm surprised that the estate of Robert E. Howard, Conan's creator, didn't raise a fuss about that), and Conan was wearing both a belt and wristbands made from plastic, not fabric, that had a fair amount of sculpted detail in them. Using that as a basis for comparison and precedent, Gardner can get away with this belt, even if it's a bit larger than necessary. And it's certainly well made.
Gardner has white stripes sewn down his legs. This is entirely in keeping with his costume, of course, but it's the sort of little detail that I find myself wondering if Mego would've bothered with. They weren't above taking occasional shortcuts. Green Arrow's gloves weren't quite correct back in the day. I can see these stripes being something that Mego would've considered an easy omission. I'm glad they're here.
Gardner also wears these big heavy boots. Mattel has done an excellent job of duplicating these. They're thick, with the proper straps and buckle at the top, and some serious treads on the soles. Needless to say, this Guy Gardner figure stands up well.
The figure, if one were to take a look at one sans costume, is not quite a duplicate of the Mego design. For now, that seems to be the province of EmCe Toys. But Mattel has still come up with a good design, whose only real fallacy is unusually narrow hips. This has a slight adverse effect on the leg articulation, but not too seriously. It can affect the look of a figure, making him look too narrow below the waist, but in Gardner's case, the jacket and the belt compensate for this, so there's no adverse affect to his appearance.
Of course, the figure is extremely well articulated, the same as the Megos themselves were. Guy Gardner is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and ankles. He also comes with an accessory, in the form of a Green Lantern power battery to recharge his ring.
So, what's my final word here? I realize these figures aren't for everybody. They're specifically designed to reflect an earlier era of action figures, but it is an era that is greatly respected by many in the action figure community, whether they're old enough to remember it or not. And these DC Retro-Action figures are doing an excellent job of showing respect to the original Megos, while crafting characters that either weren't, or could not have been, part of that original line. Guy Gardner is a superb example of this. It's a great likeness of the character, in a superb rendition of the Mego style.
The DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES figure of GREEN LANTERN GUY GARDNER definitely has my highest recommendation!